Her brooding lyrics, set to unconventional tunings, revealed a multi-dimensional, searching voice.
Veteran San Francisco media personality Steve Wagner was co-host, writer, and executive producer of the Bay Area television programs Reel Life and Filmtrip.
Steve has ghostwritten several published books, contributed articles on music, film, and popular culture to numerous publications, and presented lectures and workshops on music, art, and mythology throughout the U.S.
His book All You Need is Myth: The Beatles and Gods of Rock (2019), a study of the classic rock era through the lens of classical mythology, is the product of ten years of research and composition.
We continue with our twelve days of mythic rock archetypes through focus on The Goddess, Joni Mitchell, who expressed the deeper feminine qualities of inner wisdom and intuitive process, concerns of ecology and equality, possession of hidden knowledge, and emphasis on truth and integrity, attributes of countless mythic goddesses of the ancient world.
Joni recalls how her ever-quickening deification was an early red flag that her creative process could be usurped by the demands of industry and expectations of fans, and reasoned that to remain true to both herself and her followers she would have to speak with an increasing authenticity: “I took it upon myself that since I was a public voice and subject to this weird kind of worship, that they should know who they were worshipping. I was demanding of myself a deeper and greater honesty, more and more revelation in my work in order to give it back to the people, where it goes into their lives and nourishes them.” Below is an excerpt from All You Need is Myth: The Beatles and the Gods of Rock, discussing the goddess of the rock pantheon, Joni Mitchell:
The media’s preoccupation with her attractiveness aside, what really distinguished Joni from the other (mostly male) musicians of the late ’60s was her lyrical depth and acumen. Though a gifted composer of melody and structure, it was the content and direction of her works that caught the public, and other songwriters, by surprise. Her brooding lyrics, set to unconventional tunings, revealed a multi-dimensional, searching voice. Regardless of whether the “I” in a given song was Mitchell herself, a friend, or a fictional character, each was an incisive, self-contained sketch of the human psyche, the inner voice longing to be heard.
Joni’s most iconic songs are those that place inner wisdom in relation to nature …
In addition to the goddess’s role as the divine body (nature, sex, birth, regeneration) she is also associated with our emotional and interior lives. The Greek Sophia of early Gnostic Christianity is wisdom personified. In the Daoist concept of yin/yang, the feminine aspect, yin, is ruled by emotion, passivity, and the element of water. In classical Greek mythology, Athena represents wisdom and the strategic aspects of war. The Tarot’s High Priestess card symbolizes the inner guiding voice and the emotional world, both of which are elusive and veiled in mystery.
Joni’s most iconic songs are those that place inner wisdom in relation to nature, the lines often blurring until the listener starts to question where the human psyche ends, and the earth begins. “Both Sides, Now” illustrates the fallacy of human perception using the metaphor of clouds, while “Big Yellow Taxi,” one of the first popular songs to address environmental concerns, criticizes sprawl, deforestation, wanton commercial development, and consumerism. “The Circle Game” is a simple yet poignant commentary on the human lifecycle and time, and “Woodstock” combines scientific and religious imagery into a beautiful declaration of the physical body, and a lament for its disconnection from the earth as the source of life.
Transcending the sense of underlying energy and the point of direct experience that is beyond the physical world, the logic of the brain, and, most frustratingly, language.
Everything we experience in our material world is realized and created through a dance with its opposite.
Even more than her music, it was Janis’s seemingly possessed delivery that captivated and entranced her audience.